The Internet has proven to be a great force of change in many corners of the economy, but perhaps nowhere more than in investing. Anyone with Internet access can tap into a wealth of financial information and services heretofore available only to a small cadre of professional investors.

For the Toronto stock Exchange, the Internet "has opened up a whole new universe of users" of financial information, says Richard Carleton, director of information products. To the TSE, like other exchanges, the continuous stream of data generated by trading activity is a valuable commodity that is sold to information vendors such as Reuters and Bloomberg, who, in turn, repackage that information and sell it as part of their services to investment professionals. The exchange also sells its data to newspapers and directly to sophisticated end users such as securities dealers and fund managers. But the advent of Internet-based discount brokerages and other services aimed at individual investors has created an additional market for the TSE's data. All those new consumers of market information, says Carleton, add up to a promising new source of revenue for the exchange's proprietary data.

Internet technology has also enabled the exchange to serve its traditional customers more effectively, in the form of a recently completed extranet, a network based on standard Web technology but accessible only to authorized users who pay for accesss. Using the extranet, TSE customers can now download data to their PCs. Fund managers in Europe are currently paying rush courier charges to ensure quick delivery of the TSE's daily hard-copy publication. Using the extranet will drastically improve the timeliness of the information for such customer, says Carleton, and hence its value.

The TSE's extranet is also E-commerce-enabled, automatically keeping track of customer billing -- thus reducing the administrative burden on the TSE. And from the user perspective, the extranet offers flexibility in assembling customized information. According to Ron Riesenbach, president of Telepresence Systems, the prime contractor that built the system, customers can query the exchange's database and request specific information.

The system in turn queries the exchange's mainframe computer, assembles an estimate of how much that information will cost and provides a link for the customer to click on to download the data. "It is a step beyond tradtional E-commerce systems that only let you choose from a pre-determined catalogue," says Riesenbach. "Here, you can assemble your own product."